A Rocky Start

I haven’t written much this year yet.  The year got off to a rough start at work and I still don’t feel like I’ve found my footing in this new year that is now almost 1/4 of the way done.  I find that somewhat depressing.  I’m finally getting my work stuff straightened out and by the end of this week I should be feeling fresh and clean there and ready for a new start.  Nothing like finishing last years projects almost four months into the next year to charge you up!  Sarcasm, if you didn’t know, is one of my favorite forms of expression.  Anyway, besides feeling increasingly like the big bad wolf is about to blow my work house down I’ve been going through some emotional things that have increased my anxiety levels to new heights.

It’s hard for me to talk about what I’m going through because I’m not sure I understand it.  I don’t know what’s causing it and I don’t even know what it is.  I think it’s related to transitioning and possibly using hormones.  For a while I thought maybe my dose was too high (standard dose of .5cc per week) and it was making me feel crazy in my head.  So I dropped it down one cc/10 mg to .4cc or 40 mg and that might have helped but I’m not absolutely sure.  I’ve talked to a couple of folks about it and they think it’s purely anxiety.  What’s happening is that sometimes I feel mentally fragmented like there’s a part of my brain that I can’t access.  Sometimes I get this weird feeling like I don’t know who I am anymore.  I go through my mental quiz with myself to make sure I’m not having another episode where my short term memory is messed up.  My therapist suggested I start taking B vitamins since they’re good for memory and I do think they’ve helped a little bit.  They also help with anxiety which is good too.  Then I was reading about the affects on the brain from living with narcissists and how it affects your memory as well.  There’s a thing call Complex PTSD which is similar to regular PTSD like soldiers experience after being in war but is caused by prolonged exposure to mental and/or physical trauma.  I definitely show signs of C-PTSD and it probably has a lot to do with my anxiety and phobia issues.  Along with being sensitive to a lot of stimulus and not dealing well with stress it is probably a perfect storm brewing inside my head, along with all the fun stuff that transitioning does for a person.  How could I not be feeling in a heightened state of anxiety?

On top of all this I scheduled my top surgery for April 7th.  I find myself wondering if my timing is bad on this.  I wanted to get it done now because the rest of the year is going to be pretty busy with work and trips we have planned and if I don’t do it now I’ll have to wait until late in the year or even next year to do it.  And there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to do it then either since we never know what the future holds.  Now is definitely the time to have my surgery but my head is spinning out of control some days and I’m relying more and more on my anxiety meds to keep my stuff together.  Another thing that’s been bothering me even though I’ve been told by two nurses that they think it is anxiety as well is that my heart often feels like it’s going to pound out of my chest and I can feel my pulse throbbing up into my ears.  My blood pressure and pulse are all normal and I don’t have heart issues but it still scares me.  Last night when I went to bed I felt like my whole body was buzzing/vibrating and thought that at any moment I might start shaking all over.  I didn’t.

Now, dear reader, you may be thinking, “Wow, poor Lesboi is a hypochondriac and has some serious mental issues he needs to take care of ASAP!”  I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that.  Honestly, I wouldn’t.  I think it too most days.  Except I’m not a hypochondriac and usually, other than some depression and anxiety, I’m pretty mentally stable.  I don’t know what my problem is to be honest.  I feel like I’m losing my shit and I’m not even sure what shit I’m losing.  I’ve even considered quitting my T altogether in case it’s the root cause of my malaise.  I’ve been on T for about 4 years and at this dose for close to two so it’s not like I’ve been messing around with the dosage or trying new things.  My guess is that it isn’t the T.  But what is it?  Stress probably.  I felt great at the end of 2015 with all that I had accomplished in my transition and looking forward to finishing it all up in ’16 but work-wise I didn’t wrap things up like I had wanted and the holidays put me in a real downward spiral emotionally.  I’ve been a mess ever since then and it’s getting worse, not better.  I’m hoping getting work fixed up will take some of the stress off me.  But I also have the stress of the upcoming surgery which I am really looking forward to, yet have some anxiety about as well.  This is my big transition surgery and it has a lot of meaning to me.  It symbolizes the end of my life as a female bodied person.  The last outwardly visible cue of my female gender will be removed that day.  Don’t get me wrong, I want them gone.  I’ve never wanted breasts.  But, just as I felt a pang of sadness when I erased my old identity at my college a few weeks ago I think having my breasts removed could possibly trigger some deep emotional response as well.  I’m a little afraid of how it will make me feel to have them gone.  I know that body parts don’t equal gender and that lots of men have boobs.  I get that.  But, for me, they were the most outward and obvious sign that, yes, I definitely am a woman even if I don’t like it.  When they came in I had to reconcile that within myself and my psyche.  I have boobs.  I am a woman.  I’m never going to be a boy or grow up to be a man.  And I put all of those thoughts out of my head for a very long time.  As I’ve said before, I have a lot of internal shame around my desire to be a boy and really struggle to feel worthy of claiming male as my gender.  Even so, my plan is to change my gender marker to Male once I’ve had surgery.  It’s a big deal to me.  Whether Candace knows it or not, it’s a big deal to her too.  How will it affect my relationship?  What will people think?  I won’t be able to hide anymore.  I will be visibly trans or at least visibly not female.  This is my thinking anyway.  Reality will probably teach me that I’m wrong the first time someone calls me ma’am after surgery.  And I’ll get mad about it, I’m sure.  I’ll have to come out to my employees too and I’m really dreading that, yet I’m pretty sure it’ll go fine.  Today, a customer called me sir in front of one of them and I didn’t “correct” him.  I was sure that my employee would say something but he didn’t and I was thankful for it.  Maybe he didn’t hear or wasn’t sure what he heard.  Either way, the time has come to clear all this up for the people I work with.

On top of all this, I’m planning to open a second location for my business in the middle of the summer, so I’m worried about that too.  I worry that it’s more than I can handle and that I’ll be overwhelmed.  Maybe I’m biting off more than I can chew.  I want to do it though.  I can’t explain it other than I just feel in my bones like it’s the right thing to do.  The stars have aligned perfectly for this to happen and I want to do it.  But it is daunting and scary.  Another reason to get surgery done now instead of later.  I know that the end of this year is going to be insanely busy with work and I won’t have time to take weeks off to recuperate and take it easy.

So as you can see, life is a bit wonky right now for me.  I’m managing ok most of the time but I often feel on the edge of losing my grip on reality.  I think.  If I can get myself in a new routine of meditating in the mornings and doing some exercises at night I think I’ll feel a lot better.  After writing all of this out I can clearly see that I’m dealing with a lot of heavy stuff and I need to learn to relax more.  I’m hoping that once I get work caught up I can take a few days by myself and do a mental retreat to work out some things and chill out away from home and work.  I wanted to do this in January, but like I said, work just didn’t allow it.  Now I just need to figure out where I want to go.

Shame

I’m taking Brene’ Brown’s class on Living Brave.  This week’s lesson is on shame.  According to Brene’, shame can not live in the light of day, so if we talk about it it goes away.  I’ve talked about how I’m filled with shame from my childhood on a few occasions here so I thought maybe I’d delve deeper into that topic.  My shame is mostly around two things: my gender presentation and my sexuality.  I think many of you can probably relate to that.  But I also carry shame from not taking better care of myself and my weight, having an anxiety disorder, not being a better partner, not making more money, not being more confident in myself and a multitude of other things.  Every where I turn I feel shame.  Every time I look in the mirror I feel it.  Too fat.  Too short.  Ugly boobs.  How am I ever going to pass as male in the men’s room without facial hair and these huge boobs?  Going out in public is a shame filled experience now.  Perhaps it always has been but it’s just more obvious to me now.

My mother constantly harped on me looking and acting more feminine.  I was never feminine enough for her.  She was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a boyfriend/husband.  And then when I was outed came out as lesbian I was shamed and disowned because of it.  My mother waged emotional warfare on me to get me to stop being gay.  She threatened to have me institutionalized, to put something in the newspaper about my sordid lifestyle, to call my college and have them kick me out for being lesbian, call my professors, out me if I ever joined the military or decided to be a teacher (both life ambitions at the time which I never dared to do).  In short, she threatened to ruin my life.  She even went as far as to drive around my college campus on weekends looking for me so she could roll the window down and shout nasty things at me when I walked by with my friends.  She came to a jazz band concert I was performing in and before we started stood in front of the band and called me a “finger f@*%er”.  She made my life a living hell.  I have PTSD from the things she did to me.  All in the name of making me turn straight and act like a nice young lady.  So, yeah, I deal with shame a lot.  And anxiety and depression too.

And on top of all that, I’m ashamed that I never stood up to her or told her where to go.  I’m ashamed because I’m weak and let her terrorize me and destroy my self confidence.  It set me up quite nicely to let others treat me just as awful.  I didn’t feel like I deserved respect.  Its’ sickening how much shame resides inside my being.  It’s a wonder I’ve been able to accomplish anything in life at all.  Somehow I just found work-arounds.  Instead of becoming a teacher, I pieced together a living teaching private lessons and doing other odd jobs, always settling for whatever I could get.  I’ve never made much money.  Guess why?  I don’t feel like I deserve it.  I don’t think I have much worth.  Even as a business owner now, I’m very susceptible to the complaint that my prices are too high and always worry that I’m charging too much, when in reality, I probably charge too little.  Shame and self esteem, for me, go hand in hand.

And now that I am finally feeling strong enough to try and live life on my terms I find myself bucking up against the same old shame gremlins I’ve dealt with since I was a child.  I hear my mother telling me I look like a man (in that tone of voice and disgusted look on her face) every time I leave the house wearing the clothes I like to wear.  Every time I get my hair cut I see my mother’s face scowling at me for how boyish I look.  It’s hard to enjoy any of the things that I’m getting to do now.  But I plod through and keep going.  Some days are easier than others.  I tell myself I deserve to live how I want, that no one has the power to shame me like my mother used to do.  I’m stronger now.  I would never allow anyone to say or do the things she did when I was 20.  But the damage is still there and all I can do is support myself and tell myself that it’s all going to be ok.  I got through this 30 years ago and I can get through it now.

I just shared some of my darkest memories with all of you.  I’m ashamed of them.  I’m ashamed that my mother was so awful and that she hated who I was so much.  But I can’t change any of that now.  It’s over and she’s dead.  The past is the past.  But I shared it because I want to shed light on it.  I want it to go away, but I know it won’t ever completely go away.  The scars will always be there.  My mother didn’t love me.  She hated me.  That’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow.  And, no, I’m not proud of that.

 

Shame, Narcissism and Gender

I’ve been studying shame lately.  I tend to get obsessed with a subject and delve into it until I can see it from every angle.  Shame is tough to do that with due to how dense a topic it is.  I’m not talking about shame we feel when we did some little thing wrong or had an accident of some sort.  I’m talking about core shame.  Toxic shame.  Shame based living.  There’s a lot of good stuff out there on the subject if one is interested.  I’ll share some of it at the end of this.

I’m interested in shame because I have been dealing with it in my own life recently around my gender transition.  I’ve said this already but I’ll say it again.  I’m not ashamed of being transgender.  My shame comes from early childhood.  I was raised by a narcissistic mother who was grieving the loss of my dad who died suddenly when I was 14 months old and left her to support two children on social security and no skills with which to get a job.  It was 1963 and not many women worked outside of the home so it wasn’t something she had been expected to do.  I can only imagine the stress that put on her with a little baby to take care of.  Was she narcissistic before my dad died or did it develop as a defense after the fact?  I have no idea.  My brother is convinced that she was a saint so he is no help at all in figuring out this mystery.  And I guess it’s really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  What matters is that as early as I can remember I felt unsafe to tell the truth at home in fear of getting in trouble.  My pattern of telling lies persisted into early adulthood.  Guilt trips, shaming and irrational behavior (changing the rules haphazardly) were typical tools she used in her efforts to control me.

I think a lot about when I started to feel like a boy inside and how that exactly manifested itself in my life.  I can’t remember a beginning point of it.  I can’t remember ever not feeling like I should have been born a boy.  I wanted a penis but don’t remember laying in bed at night praying that God miraculously turn me into a boy.  I didn’t think it was possible.  What I wanted was to be able to do, act and dress how I wanted whether I was a girl or not.  The adults called me a “tomboy”.  It was said in a derogatory way.  God how I hated that term and the snide tone of voice that accompanied it.  I was told that I’d outgrow it one day.  I sort of did.  When puberty hit my mother pressed me hard to start looking and acting more lady-like and I did really try.  She told me I should wear earrings because people will know I’m a girl despite my short hair.  So I got my ears pierced and wore earrings every day for most of my life.  I was paranoid to leave the house without them.  She pushed me to date boys earlier than I think I should have.  It was obvious to me that all she was concerned with was making sure that I didn’t embarrass her by being too boyish.  It went against my nature but I did it.  Once I was out of college I let all of that go for the most part but I was still deeply ashamed of my masculine side.  It was so ingrained in me that I would get extremely upset if anyone mistook me for a man.  I would get angry and in the person’s face about it, defending my female gender while feeling deeply ashamed that I wasn’t performing female better.

I have shame so deep in me that I don’t know where it ends.  Toxic shame is a profound sense of being worthless at your core.  I was raised with the belief that children are to be seen and not heard.  I was not to be a bother to my mother or any of the adults that came to our house.  I don’t remember our family being huggy or showing love towards each other often.  I wonder how much attention I got as a child.  I remember having to make myself occupied a lot, being lonely, and creating great adventures in my head.  I was creative but quiet, often preferring to stick with the adults than to hang out with the other kids.  I never really learned how to socialize and play with other kids.  My street was short and I wasn’t allowed to play with the other kids on it because they were trouble makers.  They actually were bad kids and I got in trouble every time I defied my mother’s orders to leave them alone.

So now, all these years later I’m realizing, with the help of some pretty amazing people like Darlene Tando, Brene Brown and John Bradshaw that the shame I feel is built on a lie.  I’m not worthless and never was.  There’s no such thing as too masculine.  To quote Darlene Tando in an email she sent me:

“You have to remind yourself that your mother was shaming you for something that didn’t exist. It wasn’t real. She was shaming a “girl” for being “too boyish”. We know this isn’t even possible, to be “too boyish”, some girls are just more masculine than others. That said, you WERE NOT A GIRL, YOU WERE A BOY. So you were acting natural and she just didn’t know who you were. ”

I was shocked at how simply she unpacked that shame I was feeling walking around as myself in my present day skin.  I feel really vulnerable and naked when I go out into public looking “too masculine”.  I’ve devised all of these rules around what I can and can’t wear.  What is acceptable and what isn’t.  How I should behave.  I’ve spent a lifetime protecting my male side from scrutiny and hiding it from the light.  And now that I finally have given myself permission to live authentically I’m struggling with all of this shame.

But Darlene is right.  I have been ashamed all of these years for who I really am and not allowing myself to behave in the way that came naturally to me.  It’s monumentally difficult to put that shame to rest but this is a good start.  Becoming aware of the shame is the beginning.  Uncovering the lie underneath it and shining light on it is what will heal it.  There is nothing inherently bad about me, even though I’ve felt like there was for most of my life.  Brene’ Brown says that shame keeps us from connecting with other people.  How true that is!  I’m really fortunate to have a handful of really true friends who honestly know me and love me despite my flaws but the vast majority of people in my life really don’t know me at all.  I honestly want to change that.  I want to connect with people and let my natural personality shine through.  I’ve hidden it for long enough and who knows, maybe I’ll make a few new friends along the way.  And those who don’t like the real me?  Well, you know where they can go.

Valuable resources for further depth into this subject:

Brene’ Brown’s TED talk: Listening to Shame

John Bradshaw’s 6 part series on Healing the Shame that Binds You

and his groundbreaking book on the subject of shame

Gender Blog by Darlene Tando…not really about shame but she’s AWESOME so check her out if you haven’t already.